Saturday, April 24, 2010

Hiroshima, Miyajima and Okayama

As we made our way from our hotel to Kyoto station, Jay asked if I wanted to piggy-back my duffle bag atop his rollerboard suitcase. I accepted, and offered to pull the suitcase whenever, but he said it would suffice to watch it to ensure it didn’t fall off.

A.: Isn’t there some way to secure it?
Jay: Yeah, but we don’t have the equipment, so you have to mind it.
A.: That’s what she said.
At one point, there were stairs, so I took my bag back. It didn’t take long before I felt it on my shoulder.

A.: I forgot how big this bit&h was.
Jay: Me, or the bag?
A.: The station!

Richard: What does that sign say?
Jay: Tsk! Haven’t you people learned to read yet?

We found our platform and waited for our train. And waited. The time of departure came and went, and we were still waiting.

Something happened. We saw people in uniform—police or Japan Rail officials—running around on the opposite platform. There was a suggestion that someone might have fallen on the tracks, but I thought there would be a lot more drama and scurrying had that been the case. In any case—and we never did find out what happened—no trains were coming into Kyoto station.

Jay: Maybe someone dropped his or her ticket onto the tracks. They’re magnetic, after all.

Realizing we would miss our already-tight connection at Shin-Osaka, we discussed alternate routes to Hiroshima. We concluded it would be best to take the same train, only later.

A., indicating the departures sign: Does that go to Shin-Osaka?
Jay: No! Haven’t you learned to read yet??

Finally, our train arrived. Jay would always board where there was space for large luggage, which was often at the opposite side of the car. I tended to go with him. We waited as people poured out of the train. Finally, we boarded, dropped our stuff, and walked toward the front of the car. We saw Richard board. And then we felt the train move, and saw Susan standing on the platform.

Cuss.

We get to Shin-Osaka in less than twenty minutes and hope that Susan knows to take the next train there. She would have heard us talking about it. We figure out which platform she’d exit to, and I leave my stuff with the guys and go to look for her, but there are so many people. Then, I see it: the white jacket and Hello Kitty! suitcase! Never have I been so happy to see a Hello Kitty! suitcase.

Susan turned to another group of gaijin who had been waiting on the platform, and who were also left behind as the door suddenly closed. They all made it to Shin-Osaka. We were all relieved, but our hearts were pounding for hours afterward. There’s an argument for each person knowing where to go—as tempting as it can be to just follow other people—and for having your own stuff on you. And for having contingency plans for meeting if separated.

Shin-Osaka was particularly bananas in light of the Kyoto station delays. We made a reservation for the next Hikari to Hiroshima and had some time to shop for bento and pastries for the road.

It was raining when we got into Hiroshima, which was just as well, because we would head to the peace museum once we checked in. Unlike much of Kyoto, Hiroshima was anything but fugly, perhaps because it had to be entirely rebuilt and was actually planned. Even though its bombed-out history permeates Hiroshima’s identity, there’s so much more to it (and I don’t just mean it’s baseball team, the Carp). We took in the city’s streets from the windows of the trolley from the station.

When I checked in, the hotel staff handed me a towel to wipe the rain off my heads. Jay’s vending machine instincts led him to a vending corner not far from the front desk, where he got a Pocari Sweat.

Jay: Do you want to try some?
A.: No.
Jay: It’s just like Gatorade, but better.
A.: Gatorade’s gross.
Jay: Just try it.
A.: That’s disgusting! I need to eat something just to get that taste out of my mouth.
Jay: That’s what she said.

We cleaned up and headed over to the Peace Museum. Susan originally did not want to join, but decided to go for it. She was glad she went, in the end, but she didn't feel that the museum devoted sufficient attention to Japanese aggression. Jay and I didn't think that was the point, in any case, but the museum did acknowledge Japanese aggression and its role in triggering the war in the Pacific. Was Susan looking for some kind of “we brought this on ourselves” statement? It’s an important, complex debate to have, and she’s entitled to her opinion on the matter, but the museum’s message was that the bombing was horrific. I was the only one who took my time through the more graphic exhibits—not because I wanted to, or found it any easier to stomach them, but because I thought it was essential to read the individual stories ( eg., "these are the clothes of this child [name]. He was coming home from school when the bomb fell. He managed to make it home, but died the next morning. His parents donated the clothes"). Without that, it's easy to get lost in statistics and not appreciate the impact on actual people, which just makes it easier to argue that the bombing was justified. If you’re going to make that argument, the least you can do is look at the pictures and read the stories.

It had stopped raining by the time we left the museum, which allowed us some much-needed fresh air. We ambled across the Peace Park, toward the A-Dome, which was eerily beautiful, particularly as surrounded by sakura.


We then walked downtown, to a five-story okonomiyaki emporium. We walked around from counter to counter—one was turned down because the fryer smell was overwhelming—and found one with English menus and beckoning staff. Jay and I went out of our way to emphasize that we needed our okonomiyaki sans-pork. Had I known how much food would be in there, I’d have asked for it without udon as well. It was really cool to watch them make the okonomiyaki, and then to watch them make others for an incoming group.

R&S stopped into a toy store on the way back, so Jay and I continued, until we, too, were distracted—in our case, by a 100 yen store. We also found a supermarket, where we got breakfast and dessert. We got what turned out to be a delectable green tea muffin with adzuki paste filling. The four of us reconvened at the hotel and had a little party in our room.

We left for Miyajima early the following morning, in order to catch the Itsukushima Torii at high tide. The trolley we took to the station was a historic one; it had survived the bombing.

It was raining again, but the island was still beautiful. All sorts of statistics are bandied about with regard to the Torii’s status as the most/one of the most photographed images in Japan, and it’s not surprising. It doesn’t seem like much from the pictures, but it looks really cool.


There’s more to Miyajima than Itsukushima, though. Including wild deer, most of which are less mangy than their Nara counterparts.
Jay identified the one he found to have the cutest butt. Daiganji Temple, just past the Torii, is impressive, but it wasn’t until we’d walked up the hill to Daisho-in Temple that I really wanted to kick myself for not having brought more camera batteries. It rendered me speechless. The temple itself was amazing, but the grounds—the surrounding trees, ponds, etc.—made for an incredible atmosphere.

After we took in the temple and its surroundings in all their glory, we were ready for lunch. Nothing like soba to warm you up on a rainy day. Ready to go again, R&S headed back to the ferry, catching the Torii at low tide, and Jay and I set out for our hike on Mt. Misen, which I’ve already told you about in the sakura post. But I’ll tell you again that it was beautiful, even though we couldn’t see much from the top. There were waterfalls and rock formations along the way. On our way down, to a different part of the island from where we’d started, we stumbled upon an incredible view—just when you thought you’d had it with trees and streams.

We found the Torii at low tide, such that we were able to walk out to it. I got a picture of Jay just at the feet of the Torii. At that point, we were soaked and starved. I’d never been happier to see a vending machine. We got our tea/coffee, and then our ice cream, to tide us over until dinner. It was understandable that by the time we got back to Hiroshima, much less to our hotel, we weren’t really up for venturing far, but we tried to find a real restaurant with English menus. We failed, and settled for convenience store fare. R&S didn’t settle for that, so they looked for something else. I think they eventually found KFC.

We checked out the next morning and got to the station with plenty of time to hunt, but for some reason, the offerings were much less exciting than those we saw when we arrived. I settled for a convenience store Nescafe (yes, I know Nestle is of the devil).

We stopped at Okayama—we’d wanted to break up the ride from Hiroshima to Gero, and Okayama Castle seemed like a good bet. It wasn’t a bad stop, but there wasn’t much to do in town apart from walk around the castle (I don’t think they want people to go in, as they charge 800 yen for admission, and the more interesting part is the outside). We walked around. Susan and I both got sakura ice cream. I offered Jay some of mine, and turned to see him stick his tongue out and cover half the cone with it.

A.: ??
Jay: I was trying to [censored]

I had as much of the ice cream as I’d wanted, and didn’t want the waffle cone. I offered the rest to Jay. He dared make a comment about how I’d hollowed out the bottom of what was in the cone.

A.: After you licked the whole thing?
Jay: I was trying to get it to [censored]
Richard: Um, guys…

Until Richard stopped us, I hadn’t registered the innuendo of what Jay had said. Either had Jay. So Jay took to explaining himself, which only made things worse. Everything he said—with genuine innocence—sounded worse than the thing he’d said before. We didn’t even need to say “TWSS.” There was nothing more to be said.

We returned to the station, braking for vending machines on the way, and shopped for lunch. Jay and I found a supermarket, got our bento.

The train ride to Gero was beautiful. I wish I’d been able to better capture it on camera, but I’ll have to settle for just having experienced it.

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